“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” said President John F. Kennedy, kicking off the space race in 1962. All these decades later, there was still nothing easy about SpaceX and NASA’s effort to send four astronauts to International Space Station Wednesday night. The flight carried with it the 600th person to reach Earth orbit since Yuri Gagarin’s historic trip 60 years ago.
After multiple delays, the conditions in Cape Canaveral were finally right for the four astronauts, including Matthias Maurer, to blast off. According to NASA, the German astronaut gets to claim the 600th spot because of his mission designation. Joining him were Tom Marshburn, Raja Chari, and Kayla Barron.
There was an undisclosed issue with one of the crew members last week that led to a delay. But NASA assured the media that it wasn’t COVID-19 related. The weather was the other culprit, and even though it was raining over Florida Wednesday night, the launch was deemed safe.
600 may not seem like a particularly significant number on the surface. It doesn’t meet any specific goal, but it does mean humanity has put roughly 10 people into space per year since 1961. SpaceX as a company, though? They’re now averaging one person per month. They’ve put 18 people into orbit in 18 months over four flights with NASA and five flights total.
“Human spaceflight was the reason we were founded, so it’s incredibly meaningful for the whole team,” SpaceX manager Sarah Walker said.
The SpaceX and NASA Flight Carried the Oldest Person to Ever ‘Live’ in Space
The overall number wouldn’t be nearly as high were it not for the commercial space exploits of billionaires like Jeff Bezos. Much ado was made about William Shatner’s short space flight aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard last month. And a 90-year old reaching space is undoubtedly impressive.
But flight surgeon Dr. Thomas Marshburn will spend six months living on the International Space Station. His 61 years will make him the oldest to truly live in space. NASA even has a spacewalk planned for him. And yes, that timeframe means Marshburn and his fellow crew members will spend the holidays 250 miles above the surface of the Earth. But when an opportunity to go to space comes along, it’s pretty tough to pass up.
“Enjoy your holidays among the stars. We’ll be waving as you fly by,” Mark Soltys, the SpaceX launch director, told the crew as they prepared for takeoff.
600th man Matthias Maurer thinks we can expect to see an exponential increase in space travelers in the coming years. That’s thanks to the progress made by commercial space flight companies.